Video Games: The Dying Age of The Home Console

Many of you are probably aware that it was a very busy Christmas season in the retail markets. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both launched in November, early enough for Sony and Microsoft to expect great things for their sales figures. 

While those figures each exceeded, in a month, the total sales of Nintendo’s poor Wii U in a year, the console market is decidedly not what it once was. There was a time when PlayStation 3s were incredibly scarce, and commanded three or four times market value on eBay. There was a time when the Xbox and PlayStation competed to see whose high-capacity storage format would win out: Blu-Ray or HD-DVD. There was a time when picking a side in the console wars meant access to large amounts of exclusive content, available only on Xbox, PlayStation, or Nintendo, and nowhere else.

Today, however, everything sucks in comparison to the PC.

Yes, I went there. Moreover, I mean it. Neither the Xbox One, nor the Playstation 4, have any major advantages over going out and building yourself (or buying yourself) a $600 PC. Being a nerd, my first inclination is to analyze all three by their technical specs, but given space constraints, I’ll skip that and jump to some relevant criteria that you, my dear readers, might find useful when making a choice of gaming platform in the near future. 

Ease of use: The Xbox One wins this one hands down. Despite being the size of an old-school VCR, the Xbox One’s interface feels tremendously more polished than its rivals’ (that goes for the PC, too). With a tiled interface reminiscent of Windows 8’s start screen, it is easy to find content, and to control the system with quick little flicks of the wrist, or by voice, for ultimate laziness.

Gaming library: Moot. The PS4 technically has a larger library, with “Killzone Shadow Fall” and “Knack” as its exclusive titles, compared to only “Forza 5” on the ‘Bone (Xbox One = XBone = ‘Bone. Not too clever, I know). However, almost all the rest of the titles with mass market appeal, such as “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” “Battlefield 4” (another disaster unto itself), and all the various sports games, are not only cross-platform between consoles, but also, by and large, accessible on the PC.

Controller: Moot. This time it’s a good moot, though: both consoles’ controllers have been redesigned for the better. The ‘Bone controller feels refined, responsive, and well-weighted and has independent force feedback motors on both the left and right triggers, allowing for a greater illusion of action when one hammers the brake in a racer or the trigger in an FPS. The PS4 controller is also iteratively redesigned for the better, sporting much more tactile joysticks, better handholds, and a central touch pad which, as of right now, no games use.

Media playback: Again, the Xbox One wins this one, but it comes with a big caveat. Yes, you can stream live TV through the console and use it like a cable box. Yes, you can control your TV’s volume and input through voice commands. Yes, you have more streaming apps like HBO GO and Crunchyroll, in addition to the normal Netflix and Hulu. But all of these features seem to be the true focus of the console, not the games themselves. If you want a set-top box, you don’t have to spend $600 for one with a camera that invades your life and privacy 24/7.

Game performance: Moot, with a slight edge to the PS4. I use the word “slight” because the details are noticeable only to a graphics nerd like myself. The two are powered by extremely similar hardware and software, and games run fine at HD resolutions on both. I’ll say it again, though: Play any of the cross-platform releases on a PC that has anti-aliasing (removal of jagged corners on 3D models), and you’ll never go back.

If you want more information on the individual consoles and their play experiences, I’ll be reviewing them separately in the coming weeks. But I can’t give a recommendation to either of them at present. If you really need to get your game on right now, go get a PC. Perhaps a Steambox? That’s another story for another time, though. Bottom line: the home console market is dying, if this Christmas was any judge.

Tim Taylor PO ’14 studies computer science. He owns every commercially popular video game system manufactured since the Atari 2600. 

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